Apr 15, 2012

Fair grounds

Umeå mid January 2014. I wonder what it will be like. Only days before the grand opening of Umeå being the European Capital of Culture for that year.  Will those new buildings all be done? The redesigns of squares and parks completed? All the projects in place? It’s not even two years until we are there and most things are still up in the air. Will they have a smooth landing?

50 years ago Seattle was ready for take off. Century 21 Exposition – the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair was just days away from opening. What was it like? The intentions were bold and brave. A city at the far west that created a fair of, for and about the future. A transformative event that captured the imagination of the world and introduced Seattle as a global city. Wow. And an architecture that embodied that spirit, reaching for the stars! Yes, this was the era of optimism, of space age, of a handsome young media president.

The civic leaders of Seattle at that time had a vision that wouldn’t take no for an answer. Their dual purpose was to celebrate their city while stimulating its growth, and to create the enduring legacy of a permanent civic center, the Seattle Center. It’s amazing how well they succeeded. Being that bold and brave doesn’t necessary mean that the ideas will work. Not at that specific time and certainly not 50 years later. But they did, and they still do!

Knowing what Umeå is going through now, the city rapidly changing to be dressed up for 2014 and the emotional and practical turmoil the residents of Umeå are facing, I can imagine Seattle World’s Fair stirred up quite some feelings. 13 square blocks were going to be transformed for the site and more then 200 houses were demolished and passed into the past to make room for the future. Eddie Carlson, chairman for the Washington World’s Fair Commission conceived the vision of the Space Needle after dining atop of the television tower in Stuttgart, Germany.  People’s homes replaced by a Jetson rocket weren’t everybody’s cup of tea, so to speak. Therefore, how fortunate it is that those purposes from the civic leaders at that time came true. Seattle Center became and is the much loved and treasured center point of the city that they envisioned. 12 million people visit the Center every year, and 2012 the vision is The Next 50, once again looking into the future.

So, April 15 1962. The opening is six days away, April 21. What was it like? The monorail, the train into the future was already up and running. Were the arcs at the United States Science Pavilion (now Pacific Science Center) already striving white towards the sky, or was somebody balancing paint cans on that delicate design? Did the elevators in the Space Needle test run and how about the restaurant on top of it, did it already revolve? And I can only imagine the nerve wrecking assignment making the sound technique work for the opening ceremony. President John F Kennedy holding the opening speech from Florida. His voice heard by 12 000 people seated in the Center stadium and on the fairgrounds. It was an optimistic president talking about cooperation and radio waves, space age and peace.

-       May we open not only a great World’s fair, may we open an era of peace and understanding among all mankind. Let the fair begin!

Seattle Center is a place for everyone. The water of the International Fountain invites young and old, black and white, Americans and foreigners. The festivals gather the world in arts and food. It’s peaceful lying on the lawn watching the Needle and the arcs aiming for the sky. It’s a place for understanding among mankind. And I am hoping that The European Capital of Culture 2014 will create that kind of space and spirit in Umeå too. I am hoping for  a smooth landing and fair grounds.

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